TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would enhance the penalties for trespassing on private or posted property if the trespasser has a firearm in his or her possession was approved by the Senate today by a vote of 37-0.
“When a trespasser steps over that boundary between public land and private property, homeowners can be justifiably nervous” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “When you add a loaded firearm into the equation, you have a powder keg ready to ignite. We need strong deterrents and penalties to ensure that, in hunters’ eyes, the line between public and private property is painted with a thick, black brush.”
Senator Vitale’s bill, S-517, would upgrade the penalties for trespassers on private or posted property without permission for the purpose of hunting when that trespasser possesses a firearm. Under the bill, a hunter would be subject to a fine of between $500 and $1,000 for a first offense, and $1,000 to $2,000 for second, and subsequent offenses. If the hunter is in defiant trespass, meaning that the trespasser stays on private property despite notice having been given of trespass, either verbally, through postings or enclosure designed to exclude intruders, the hunter may be subject to a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or imprisonment of up to six months. Additionally, hunters convicted under this bill would forfeit their hunting license for two years for a first offense, and five years for all subsequent offenses.
Current law designates a fine of $100 to $200 for a first offense and $200 to $500 for subsequent offenses for trespassing for the purposes of hunting, and a fine of not more than $500 and/or up to 30 days imprisonment for defiant trespassing.
“The current laws on the books do not go far enough to protect the property rights of homeowners, and the safety of everyone involved,” said Senator Vitale. “There is far too much potential for tragedy when a hunter wanders into someone’s backyard with a loaded weapon. With this bill, we are ensuring that trespassing carries some very serious consequences, to deter hunters from making a mistake and putting themselves or others in harm’s way.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration.